Miami has been booming with an influx of new residents and big-money companies since the dawn of the covid-19 pandemic. The trend doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon and it’s compounding issues for the city’s most vulnerable, including the homeless.
It was recently announced that billionaire Ken Griffin is moving his multi-billion dollar hedge fund and trading firm, Citadel Securities, to Downtown Miami from Chicago.
Citadel is not an anomaly because major players like Starwood Capital Group, Blackstone and Apollo Global Management are doing the same.
Add to that a pro-tech and crypto mayor courting companies and workers alike to make Miami their home, low taxes and some of the best weather in the country and it’s the perfect place for many high-income earners looking for a permanent change of scenery.
While this is good news for out-of-town transplants, tech workers and companies looking to make their home in sunny South Florida, it’s been detrimental to many Miami natives and other locals.
With Miami climbing the ladder to overtake New York and Los Angeles as the most expensive housing market in the nation; and the stagnation of local wages, many lifelong Miamians have been forced to relocate further north or out of the state.
The problem is magnified ten-fold for the city’s homeless as they don’t have the means to move elsewhere.
Now, to assuage incoming residents’ concerns about makeshift homeless encampments in some of Miami’s most popular gentrified neighborhoods – including the historically Black Overtown, which was central to Miami’s founding – the city is exploring options on how to best resolve the issue.
Among them is sending Miami’s homeless population to an encampment in Key Biscayne that the city will sponsor and maintain. The encampment would provide shelter and social services to homeless Miamians.
Miami’s city commissioners voted to move forward with building 50 to 100 tiny homes on the island on Thursday, July 28, according to a report by the Miami Herald.
Similar projects in other U.S. cities served as the encampment’s inspiration, but Miami would be the first to send its homeless to an island.
Many advocates and Virginia Key residents are against the proposal.
“The Trust cannot support or fund any homeless encampment without jeopardizing our programs and funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, told the Herald.
“We are stunned that anyone is even proposing this location. It’s a popular outdoor recreation area for Miamians, families and tourists right next to a restored and environmentally protected lagoon and beach,” Virginia Key Alliance co-founder Sunny McLean said. “Why would you put an encampment for homeless people in a remote area? It’s ill-conceived and inconsiderate of the work and millions of dollars invested in that place.”
Ken Russell, the Miami city commissioner representing Virginia Key, voted against the encampment.
“It’s not in compliance with the Virginia Key master plan; we’ve got a lot of hopes for that area with regards to recreational and conservation activities,” Russell said. “It’s not that I don’t think it should be in one location more than the other, I simply don’t think we should be doing it.”
His colleague, Commissioner Cristine King, who represents Overtown and other predominately Black communities in Miami, balked at Russell’s comments. King is also a board member for Miami-based homeless charity Camillus House.
“Homelessness is not in anyone’s master plan,” King said. “It’s just not. And it’s offensive to say it’s not in a master plan. It’s not in anyone’s master plan.”
PHOTO: Keturah Strickland, left, and Robin Lomax, center, of the Overtown Youth Center, deliver meals to the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, May 14, 2020, in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. The center distributes lunch twice a week to those in need. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)